State’s unclaimed property list multiplies sixfold

Wisconsin state flag (file photo)
Wisconsin state flag (file photo)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The list of people who have unclaimed property in Wisconsin has multiplied sixfold in less than a year.

The backlog stands at about 7,300 claims as of June 1, compared to 1,200 last July, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Last year, lawmakers decided to transfer the program to the state Department of Revenue as part of the state budget, taking it away from state Treasurer Kurt Schuller over his objections. The property program aims to connect people with unclaimed property such as abandoned safe deposit boxes and estates whose heirs haven’t been found.

Jennifer Western, the No. 3 official at the revenue department, said her agency had identified challenges with the unit, including antiquated software, outdated vendor contracts and a lack of up-to-date procedures for handling claims.

Western said that for the past year, the agency has been working on $1 million in technology upgrades required in part by lawmakers to improve claims processing. She also said April to June is a peak time for claims because unclaimed property notices are published in newspapers during those months.

Schuller spokeswoman Cynthia Kaump said the treasurer’s office returned $33.9 million in property to its rightful owners in 2011 and $35.9 million in 2012. In the first six months of 2013, the office returned $20 million before it came under revenue department oversight.

Since then, the revenue department has returned about $22.7 million in unclaimed property and held only one auction of unclaimed property, the department said. Previously in the treasurer’s office, the auctions had been held every month.

Over the years, lawmakers and the governor have stripped the treasurer’s office of nearly every responsibility, so that it no longer has oversight of state finances or much else. Schuller, who is paid $68,556 a year, has just one main duty – serving as one of three members of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.

Schuller, a Republican, ran in 2010 on a platform of eliminating his office, a step that would require a change to the state constitution. A proposal to do that passed the Assembly last legislative session but stalled in the Senate. As a result, Schuller is stepping down after one term, as he promised four years ago.

The five candidates running to replace Schuller disagree on whether to eliminate the treasurer’s position or to rebuild it by returning some of its duties.

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